- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

"Speaker of the House Richard Gephardt met with President Al Gore to discuss their plan to increase taxes $1.6 trillion on the top 5 percent of American income earners." The preceding announcement could well have happened earlier this year, but for the broadcasting of Rush Limbaugh over the last decade. On Monday, when I heard Rush explain the rapid onset of his deafness, my thoughts rolled backward in time as I tried to imagine American politics without the presence of his voice.

In case you missed it, Rush announced on his show Monday that over the last few months he has lost virtually all his hearing. Despite the best efforts of the best doctors, he will probably remain functionally deaf. But even though he is probably fated to walk through a silent world 'till the end of his days, typically, and indomitably, he plans to continue his show. Despite the hourly bulletins of war — especially now — it is fitting that we pause to consider Rush's vital contribution to American history and lend our encouragement to his courageous decision to continue those efforts.

As press secretary from 1990-1997 to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, I have no doubt that after Newt, Rush was the single most important person in securing a Republican majority in the House of Representatives after 40 years of Democratic Party rule. Rush's powerful voice was the indispensable factor, not only in winning in 1994, but in holding the House for the next three election cycles. At a time when almost the entire establishment media ignored or distorted our message of renewal, Rush carried (and often improved) the message to the heartland. And where Rush led, the other voices of talk radio followed.

But he was never a mere megaphone. His has always been an independent analysis. When we strayed from what he judged the right path, he let us have it — thus often steadying our rudder.

His reporting and commentary would consistently more than offset the combined effects of Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw. By any objective measure of electoral effect, Rush Limbaugh was and is the most influential journalist in America — by a goodly distance.

Consider the recent presidential election. While I have no doubt that Al Gore is patriotic and experienced, even some of his closest supporters have recently observed that in light of the terrorist attacks, it is clear we elected the right president for this moment in our history (different times call for different attributes). Given the closeness of the election, but for Rush Limbaugh's broadcasts, we would now be led by President Al Gore.

When George Bush faltered in the New Hampshire primary, it was Rush's analysis that established Mr. Bush's conservative credentials and personal qualities to a doubting legion of conservative voters before the South Carolina primary. In the general election, Rush pounded at Mr. Gore and buttressed Mr. Bush for 15 hours a week to his 22 million listeners. It is fanciful to imagine that he didn't move into the Bush column vastly more voters than decided the Florida election. One would have to reach the same conclusion about another half-dozen states, including Tennessee.

My guess is that it has not always been easy being Rush Limbaugh — although he does make it look that way. When H. Ross Perot appeared on the scene to fight against NAFTA free trade in 1993, Rush had the courage to take him on despite the fact that Mr. Perot was vastly popular with Rush's own listeners.

As Newt's press secretary at the time, I was doing talk radio call-in shows around the country. I never heard such conservative anger thrown at us as I did during that NAFTA fight. The final vote was painfully close. Whether or not one agreed with Rush on that issue, it has to be conceded that his courage and effectiveness was decisive in carrying the day.

After the terrorist attacks last month, many leading journalists have cautiously avoided any words or thoughts that might constitute a "career killer." But when Rush took on Mr. Perot he risked all — just because he thought Mr. Perot was wrong.

Of course, Rush Limbaugh is not always right. But he is always honest, often courageous and invariably entertaining. In my experience of over 30 years in politics, public relations and journalism, he is more politically astute and more savvy in his communication than the vast majority of professional politicians and PR executives.

As one who sits at Rush's feet, I am grateful that he will not yet be walking off the stage. It is both melancholy and inspiring to consider that Beethoven went deaf, so he never heard his greatest music. I rather suspect that the Beethoven of talk may have a similar destiny.

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